Amid a heated debate over the Common Core rollout across the U.S., one teacher says the new education standards can get in the way of helping underprivileged students.
Emma O. taught at a public school in Atlanta where 96% of students are economically disadvantaged, for two years through the Teach for America program.
Here’s what she told us via email:
Common Core is well-intentioned with its goal being that everyone graduate from high school “college and career ready.” That’s an important outcome. However, my students struggle with basic proficiency in many areas. Our high school’s graduation rate was 43% last year — and of the kids who did graduate, they will most certainly struggle even if they do go on to college. To me, our main focus needs to be giving kids the basic skills in functional literacy and mathematics so they can graduate or get GEDs, which ultimately is their best pathway to opportunity.
When we try to implement Common Core, we find that the level of rigour is much higher, which is great for kids who are ready. One thing the Common Core curriculum stresses is reading informational texts — this seems really practical, and I like that focus. It asks that kids do close reading and answer text-based questions with evidence from the text. But my kids are reading so far below grade level that they just shut down and feel defeated. Also, as far as I know, Common Core doesn’t really address the needs of students with disabilities.
I’m not against Common Core at all, but at my school, which I would say is an outlier in terms of student performance, we need more than a new curriculum. We need help getting our kids ramped up to grade level before we can address the goals of Common Core. We need counselors to address the serious psychological trauma these kids have from growing up in their environment. We need a discipline specialist and more resource officers, graduation coaches, reading specialists, social workers … It’s challenging in ways policy makers don’t consider.
Emma isn’t alone in expressing this opinion about the Common Core, which was created in 2009 and is meant to even the playing field by giving every state a universal set of standards to measure learning.
The new curriculum has caused test scores to plummet in some states, with the drop-off in passing grades being especially pronounced at schools with large numbers of black or Hispanic students, according to The New York Times.
The Times notes that some New York City teachers have also been sceptical of the Common Core, seeing it as “another mandate from above, an idealistic vision of education promoted by outside groups seeking to radically overhaul schools.”
Others argue, however, that the Common Core could benefit underprivileged kids because it encourages educators to focus on preparing kids for college rather than just graduating high school.
Former Baltimore academic chief Sonja Brookins Santelises told NPR’s StateImpact Florida that she saw city schools improve after a few years of using Common Core.
“The standards that we were setting across the country were very, very different depending on, unfortunately still, the ZIP code and the race and the ethnicity of the young people in question,” she said. “And I think what Common Core does is really open up the black box.”
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